I came out to my parents (as gay) at the same moment I declared to them I was no longer a christian. For years I fobbed off questions about girlfriends and why I was still single. I wasn’t going to tell but if asked I wasn’t going to lie. Then one day they called me in and locked the door. I was flooded with the dread that accompanies discomfiting confrontations but at that moment it was truth or die. I expected my father to promptly fetch a machete, chase me around the room and attempt to dispatch me to the River Styx where Charon, himself no doubt, would be waiting to ferry me into the arms of Hades and Persephone in the deep underworld. That is, if one believes the Greeks. The funny thing is, that of the two revelations that morning, coming out and declaring for atheism, I felt the latter hurt my parents more. They have given their lives to the church and they clearly did not want my soul lost. How do you explain a lost child on judgment day?
I was raised pentecostal and then embraced fundamentalism with zeal – in those days the Kenneth Hagins, Kenneth Copelands and Oral Robertses kept us teenagers, enthralled and on fire for God. Eventually, the questions started: why did God punish the Egyptians when he was the one who hardened the Pharaoh’s heart? And all those innocent Egyptian firstborns (celebrated by Jews at the Passover) murdered to make a point? When I asked a friend about this his answer was: God works in mysterious ways. But questions kept tormenting my enquiring mind. Why did Jesus say to some who were about to watch him ascend into heaven that they would still be alive when the son of man returned in all his glory? They are definitely dead today.
Then came the overwhelming weight of science. When I believed in God I knew that I knew that I was right. Now that I am on the other side, so to speak, I know that I know that I was wrong. And that scares me: that we humans can believe in something so passionately and so truly and yet still be so wrong. It simply is not enough to say things like “I know in my heart” or “God speaks to me” or “I just know”. No. you don’t. You don’t. And again, you think you do, you’re deluded that you do but you absolutely don’t. You’re like the madman who mistook his wife for a hat. There’s no hat. It’s all in your mind. The only way we can know that we are still sane is by having other sources corroborate our sensory experiences. If everyone else sees your wife and you see a hat then you are, without doubt, mad.
This is why the scientific method is imperative and compelling. In the red corner we have a book (or books) written by men, who lived in an age of myths and superstition, claiming they saw and heard things “from God” and that God calls us to do as they say, whatever that may be. In the blue corner we have our sensory observations and scientific methods pointing to an infinite universe and the evolution of life on earth and the absence of anything like heaven up there beyond the clouds. In the middle is me, the referee.
I’ll believe in God when there is good evidence to do so. I am absolutely not going to base my life on a book written under “divine inspiration”. We know what men can be up to. Some are frauds (St Paul), some psychopathic (Moses/Elijah), some misguided (Solomon), some schizophrenic (Jesus) and others just mad (whatever John wrote Revelations).
How do I feel that I won’t be going to heaven? This is a place where the streets are made of gold, the houses of precious stones and where everyone wears white robes and sings hallelujah until the cows don’t come home. A place where the chosen few (whom God called before they were even born) are eternally bowing down before and praising a Being that’s clearly narcissistic. A Being clearly a facsimile of earthly priests and kings who are bent on ruling passive and acquiescent multitudes. Puh-leaze! When you really think about it, it is such an obvious scam.